The Boomer Personality Part 3: The Relocation

belize road repair                                                            Road Repair in Central America

Adjusting to ex pat relocation is not like hopping a flight from Miami to Belize City or San Jose and jumping into a hammock with a book and a beer. Culture shock is inevitable and variable depending on the location chosen.

Compliments of wiki…”Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to relocation to a new country, or a move between social environments”. Culture shock can consist of up to four distinct phases: I Honeymoon, II Frustration, III Adjustment, and IV Mastery.

Phase I requires no elaboration and is over in a few months assuming the blinders and rose-tinted glasses are removed….


rose coloured glasses


Remove and proceed to phaseII….

Phase II: Frustration can result from linguistic barriers, stark differences in public hygiene, traffic safety, food accessibility, amenities, and so on. Though (heavily accented) English is the official language of Belize, Spanish and Kriol are in fact the most popular mode of daily communication.

Phase III: Adjustment (if it arrives) takes a year or so, and involves developing problem-solving skills for dealing with the new culture and accepting it with a positive attitude.

Phase IV: mastery where one is  able to participate fully and comfortably in the host culture.

Stats are hard to find but only 40% make it to stage IV. These people manage to adapt to the aspects of the host culture they see as positive, while keeping some of their own and creating a unique blend. They have no major problems returning home or relocating elsewhere. This group can be thought to be somewhat cosmopolitan. Not a small number of folks I encountered in that cohort were well-travelled veterans or business people and their partners who could probably adjust to living in a hut in Mongolia. It’s in the DNA.

The problem with Belize that makes adjustment difficult for the 60% is that it is very 3rd world. Trash, beggars,  open drainage, sickly dogs,  extreme poverty and “modern roads” are a deterrent to relocation adjustment……

belize road


The infrastructure is weak and though improving at a snail’s pace, commodities and amenities taken for granted in the real world (by which I mean over the border in Mexico) are wanting.

This is not a place for the average boomer retiree from Omaha or Saskatoon. After all there are, with good reason Spanish notwithstanding, about 3000 USA ex pats in Belize and 1,000,000 in Mexico. Going over the border from time to time is a good and surprising antidote to culture shock. Shopping at the mall, after an Egg McMuffin, and buying a tub of cottage cheese at Chedraui are comforting injections of the familiar.

As a psychiatrist in Belize (or anywhere else) I do not see healthy well-adjusted people. The majority of ex pats that I evaluated there had pre-existing issues of depression, panic disorder, substance abuse, sex offences, or PTSD: many seeking the elusive geographic cure.

The medical infrastructure is not available to help as there are only two psychiatrists there at present, one of whom speaks no English. I have had the opportunity, using on-line methods and occasional phone calls, to currently work with  depression, pain management, bipolarity, and marriage counselling.

Marriage crisis was not a small issue in Belize. One spouse adjusting the other not so  much. Needless to say if you suffer this in Belize you are on your own. There are no psychotherapists. Marriage breakdown was not unusual and very often led to “cross cultural” affairs and partner realignment.

My conclusion is that  a retirement to anywhere outside the “first world” requires that you should be in excellent physical, mental  and relational health. Having no pre-existing alcohol or drug problems are a plus, though that will likely occur to a varying degree sometime after arrival.

A current long-term and somewhat adjusted ex pat wrote this recently…
“There is no hospital in Belize that provides quality advanced medical care – although Belize City is getting better at mash care via constant gun shot patients. Need good medical care – move. We have come to accept death as a natural experience and live with the fact that Belize medical can in no way save you from a negative outcome – in fact, they are more likely than not to hasten the journey”.

Be it ever so humble.

Belize picto-travelogue in part 4

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